As the first Republican presidential debate nears on Wednesday night, we asked our readers a few simple things: What questions would you like to hear? What issues should be discussed? How will you judge the candidates?
We heard from more than 850 readers, including devoted supporters of former President Donald J. Trump, Republicans who voted for him in the past but are now skeptical, die-hard Democrats and independents who said they were unsatisfied with all of their options in the 2024 race.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump loomed large — even in his expected absence onstage. But many Republicans were also eager to hear how the candidates would handle policy issues including the war in Ukraine and migration at the nation’s southern border.
Others were eager to hear what the candidates would do to bridge the country’s deep partisan divide. The responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Everyone wants to know about Trump.
The former president has said he will not participate on Wednesday, but many readers wanted him — and his four criminal indictments — to be a major topic of conversation.
For Democrats, the top concern was some version of the blunt question from Kerry Reardon in Fleming Island, Fla: “Yes or no, do you believe that the Democrats stole the 2020 election?”
But Republican supporters had another question for Mr. Trump’s rivals: “What makes them able to defeat Trump, then Biden later on?” asked Austin Moon in Greenville, N.C.
“What makes you think you are as tough as Trump?” asked Loretta Houdeshell, a Republican from Greenbrier, Tenn.
Others wanted a simple yes-or-no answer to the following question: “Will you support the 2024 Republican nominee for president?”
But skepticism about Mr. Trump also crept into Republicans’ questions. Kathryn Byrd, a Republican who voted for Mr. Trump in Missouri in 2020, wanted to know if the candidates thought that “those involved in the Jan. 6 riots should be held accountable, including but not limited to, former President Donald Trump?”
Shannon Swindle, a Republican from Georgia, worried about the toll of nominating a candidate with legal baggage and wanted to hear candidates’ views.
“How will they address the Trump indictments and what do they have to say if Trump is the Republican nominee, which I personally hope he is not. How do we move forward as a legitimate democracy when the Democratic Party is trying to imprison their main political opponent? What should we do to move forward?”
Moving forward was a common theme for many voters, including Peter J. Cotch of Naples, Fla., who hoped the moderators would ask about the “impact of Trumpism on the public image of the Republican Party” and added that he was “a third-generation registered Republican” who had always supported the party’s nominee, but “couldn’t do it this time if it’s Trump.”
Immigration and the war in Ukraine
Republican readers had priorities beyond Mr. Trump. They often raised questions about the candidates’ positions on continuing to build a border wall and ending birthright citizenship (a change that would require a constitutional amendment).
“How would you handle the border crisis moving forward and what would you do with the huge number of immigrants residing in the U.S. currently that arrived outside of our immigration laws?” asked Jane Roberts, a Republican in Florida.
Asked what issues he would most like to hear about, Mark Greenstone of Winter Springs, Fla., wrote, “How will they specifically resolve preventing illegal immigrants from entering our country?”
“Not just closing the border,” wrote Larry O’Neal of Tuscaloosa, Ala. “But actual changes to the immigration system.”
Like many other voters, Mr. O’Neal was also eager to hear about the candidates’ views on the war in Ukraine, a conflict that has divided the G.O.P. between traditionalists and a new guard deeply skeptical of U.S. intervention overseas. Mr. O’Neal wanted to hear about “the risks and rewards by your position.”
Josh Sacks, an independent voter in Falls Church, Va., who voted for Mr. Trump for the first time in 2020, said he hoped to hear Republicans talk about the “limits of America’s commitment to Ukraine.”
Can we all come together?
A few Republican respondents asked what the candidates could do to bring their party together, but even more raised questions about national unity.
“How are you going to help rebuild trust in our democratic system?” asked Nancy Parlette, a Republican in Maryland who said she wrote in the name of Larry Hogan, the state’s moderate G.O.P. governor at the time, for president in 2020 because she “couldn’t find anyone worth voting for.”
“People are sick of all the hate, slander and backbiting,” Ms. Parlette added. “We want to be able to trust our president and our Congress to actually care about America more than about making themselves look great.”
Susan Pichoff, a Republican from Alabama, said, “I don’t want to ask about the past.” Instead, she said: “I want to ask about, what are we doing to encourage people and unite this country? Because we are so divided and it’s sad.”
George Adkins, an independent voter in Houston who voted for Mr. Trump, had a similar thought: “How do you plan to lessen the divide among Americans in both politics and race?”
Ditch the talking points
And, in what might be a perennial request, many voters said they wanted to be leveled with. Mr. Greenstone said he would judge candidates “by how direct and specific they answer questions as opposed to just providing answers that are scripted and vague.”
“I will be turned off by a bombastic approach,” wrote Douglas Greenlee, of Huntersville, N.C. “I will respect a thoughtful approach even if the candidate says they do not have the plan developed as yet, but lay out parameters for what they would think about.”
But few voters of any political stripe expressed high hopes for the night. Catherine O’Keefe of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., said she expected that “not a single candidate will say anything useful that is not a campaigned-approved talking point, nor will they provide an actual answer to any direct question.”
Ms. O’Keefe, a Republican who voted for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020, added, “Candidates will just try to score one-liners against each other.”